Cambridge City Foodbank Christmas Hamper Collection

Cambridge City Foodbank opened in 2010 and helps local people, providing three days’ worth of nutritionally balanced emergency food and support to those who are referred to them in crisis.  With Christmas just around the corner, the Foodbank has launched its Christmas Hamper Collection and hopes to make up 500 hampers of quality food and products to give to families who are struggling to make ends meet.

Cambridge City Foodbank logo

Contributing to this couldn’t be easier.  Go on to the Foodbank website (details at the end of this post), register and choose one of the two hamper drop off dates.  This helps the Foodbank team with their logistical planning.  Then fill a good sized carrier bag with items from their list of suggestions.  Don’t add in any perishable or home made food and please make sure all items have a use by date of 25 December or later.  Then simply drop off your bag of goodies at the Foodbank warehouse in your registered drop-off slot.

Cambridge City Foodbank
Image: Cambridge City Foodbank

The Foodbank is, of course, supporting local people year round.  Jon Edney, Foodbank Co-ordinator, tells me that from April to September this year, there’s been a 13% increase nationally in people using foodbanks.  Here in Cambridge, the figure is a 46% increase during that period, compared to the same period last year, so the need is huge.

People can find themselves in crisis at any time for a multitude of reasons.  The Foodbank works on a voucher referral system with vouchers being issued by agencies such as Citizens Advice, housing support officers, children’s centres, health visitors, social services and some local charities.  Agencies can also help with longer term support to address issues behind the reasons for crisis.  You can exchange your voucher at your nearest Foodbank centre in the city where you’ll find a warm welcome and a chance to chat with trained volunteers.

Cambridge City Foodbank
Image: Cambridge City Foodbank

The Christmas hamper distribution arrangements are different; they are distributed through family centres rather than through the Foodbank centres.  If you are not already connected with any of the referring agencies mentioned in the paragraph above, then you can make contact about the possibility of receiving a Christmas hamper through the C3 Church at Coldham’s Lane.

Cambridge City Foodbank
Image: Cambridge City Foodbank

With the enormous increase in Foodbank use, there’s a constant need for food donations throughout the year, with collection points in supermarkets city-wide.  The Foodbank website has a list of urgently needed food items which you can also drop off at their food collection points.  Financial donations of any size, given either regularly or as one-offs, help this vital work to continue.  And maybe you could give your time …. why not consider joining the volunteer group of around 140 people who work in all sorts of roles and are the life blood of the organisation.

For more information about the work of Cambridge City Foodbank as well as details of how to get help and how to give help, check out their website.

Cambridge Literary Festival

One of the things I love most about writing for my blog and this column is the people I meet.  People who are getting on with their daily lives, have that light bulb moment and just go for it to create something wonderful in the city.  People like Cathy Moore, founder of the Cambridge Literary Festival.

Cambridge Literary Festival logo

Cathy first came to the city to read History at Newnham College and was only the second person from her Liverpool comprehensive school to make it to the University of Cambridge. She also loved English and books so after graduation, Cathy built a career in publishing before taking some time out to be with her young family.  A spell in teaching followed but Cathy returned to Cambridge and books, working part time in Waterstones and running their programme of events.  That’s where she met writer Ali Smith and as the two of them chatted about the Hay Literary Festival, they wondered why there wasn’t a similar event in Cambridge.

Cambridge Literary Festival
Image credit:  Chris Boland

Within months, Cathy had created Wordfest, doing everything herself and setting up twenty four events in three venues.  That was back in March 2003.  “There were about sixty literary festivals then”, Cathy tells me, “and now there are around four hundred in the UK, so we’re all in competition for the authors.”  Wordfest grew, events regularly sold out and initiatives like the debut writers panel made it truly a festival for writers as well as readers.  After gaining charitable status, Wordfest rebranded as Cambridge Literary Festival in 2014.  It now brings Spring and Winter festivals to the city as well as one-off events through the year and since 2017 has delivered the Wimpole History Festival in partnership with the National Trust.

These days, Cathy isn’t doing everything herself!  She and her small team have an office in Downing Place and they have strong support from patrons, media partnerships and sponsors.  A band of volunteer stewards welcomes the many thousands of festival goers and enables events to run smoothly for both authors and audiences.  More volunteers are always welcome so if you’re interested in giving your time (and enjoying some volunteer perks!), contact the team through the website.

Cambridge Literary Festival
Image credit: Chris Boland


Festival venues this year include several beautiful university spaces which are normally hidden from public view.  Refreshments will be available at most of these so you can grab a quick drink and a snack between events.  Heffers run a bookstall and there are author signings too.

I’m really excited for this winter’s Festival; it’s always a fun, buzzy weekend and the packed programme truly offers something for everyone, including a brand new Murder Mystery Musical from Sophie Hannah which sounds intriguing!  You’ll find details of what’s on and a booking facility through the Festival website at


This post is part of my “New in Cambridge” column in the November issue of Velvet Magazine.  Read more on

Coming up in Cambridge …..

Cambridge International Jazz Festival runs from 13 – 27 November, bringing together the many strands of the city’s strong jazz scene and welcoming national and international jazz acts too.  With a crammed schedule of vibrant live music at locations across Cambridge and celebrating a wide variety of jazz styles, the programme includes workshops (if you want to learn how to Lindy Hop, now’s your chance!), talks, films, family events and free entry fringe events.  For full programme details and tickets, check out the Festival website

Cambridge International Jazz Festival
Image credit: Cambridge International Jazz Festival

“Buy less, choose well, make it last” is designer Dame Vivienne Westwood’s message.  With this mantra ringing in their ears, Cambridge Carbon Footprint brings us the Sustainable Fashion Festival on 17 November at St Barnabas Church on Mill Road, for all Cambridge fashionistas and for anyone who cares about the huge negative impact that fast fashion has on the environment.  You’ll find a clothes swap party, a sewing themed textiles repair cafe, an interactive fashion show, sewing skillshares, a styling zone, workshops, talks and pop up sustainable fashion stalls offering new and vintage clothing.  Take a look at for more.

Sustainable Fashion Festival Cambridge
Image:  Sustainable Fashion Festival

So it’s that time of year ….. I’m making a list and checking it twice before heading off to Cambridge Made Christmas Fair which is my go to for original Christmas presents.  The Fair is running from 29 November to 1 December at St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church and will showcase the work of forty four designer-makers, artists and craftspeople.  You’ll find a huge variety of handmade goodies including ceramics, jewellery, textiles, quilts, botanical toiletries, cards, decorations, toys and homewares.  More details on their Facebook page

Cambridge Made Christmas Fair logo
Image credit: Purplespoon Design

This post is part of my “New in Cambridge” column in the November issue of Velvet Magazine.  Read more on

The Cambridge Oven

Baked goods alert, everybody!!  The Cambridge Oven is the city’s new artisan bakery and it opened for business just a couple of days ago.  So I and my sweet tooth hightailed it down to Hills Road to meet owner, Jolita Durrant, and find out more about her venture (nibbling on a plum frangipane tartlet whilst chatting, naturally!).

The Cambridge Oven logo

Jolita moved to Cambridge a couple of years ago and having worked as a nurse for fifteen years, felt it was time for a career change.  Growing up on a farm in Lithuania, she’d always cooked and baked with her mother and grandmother, using fresh seasonal ingredients.  Jolita continued her baking journey with studies at The School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire and has built her knowledge and experience whilst developing her own recipes.

The Cambridge Oven

Jolita’s dream of opening her own bakery came a step closer when, after a long search, she secured premises in Hills Road.  Since May, builders have been hard at work stripping out the property, reinforcing the floor to take a commercial oven which weighs 650 kilograms and creating a simple, light room with plenty of space for all the baked goodies and a couple of tables for those who want to eat in.

The Cambridge Oven

The Cambridge OvenOn the shelves when we visited were brioche, apple and raisin brioche buns, white and seeded sourdough breads, prosciutto and cheese croissants, mushroom and onion pastries and the sweetest little raspberry meringue kisses.  Vegans are well catered for with vegan cakes and cookies plus lunchtime dishes such as freshly made spiced tofu and avocado sandwiches and butternut squash and avocado salad.  The drinks menu offers a range of coffee, tea and soft drinks.


The Cambridge Oven

The Cambridge Oven is a member of the Real Bread Campaign.  Jolita bakes with organic flours from Fosters Mill and Shipton Mill, spelt and rye flours and wheat free flour.  She aims to pack goodness into everything she makes, using buckwheat and ancient grains, unrefined sugar, coconut oil, seeds, nuts, herbs and superfoods to ensure that her food is nutritious as well as delicious.

The Cambridge Oven
Sarah, Jolita and Matas

The Cambridge Oven is truly a family affair with Jolita’s son, Matas, working alongside her during his gap year and her husband, Karl, helping out at weekends while fellow baker, Sarah, creates delectable things in the kitchen with Jolita.  They’re open seven days a week – check out their website for details.

The Cambridge Oven

And that plum frangipane tartlet was every bit as good as it looks … crisp, sweet pastry, the lightest almondy filling and sharp, tangy slices of plum.  I’ll be back for more!

44 Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 1LA



What’s on in November

As the nights draw in and the leaves crunch under our feet, it’s another busy month here in Cambridge.  This what’s on listing for November is by no means exhaustive but you’ll find an eclectic mix of events that have come to my attention.  Please get in touch through my Contact page if you know of an event that I can add in.  And I’ll try to update through the month, so do check back when you can.

Autumn morning on Midsummer Common Cambridge
Autumn morning on Midsummer Common, image by Harriet Kelsall

1st    6pm  Parisian Women and the Nazi Occupation, uncovering their lives and their relationships.  Part of the Liberation Literature Lecture Series.  The Auditorium, Robinson College.  Booking essential.

2nd    7.30pm  Michaelmas Concert.  Vaughan Williams, Stanford and Beethoven.  Clare College Music Society.  West Road Concert Hall, CB3

3rd    Remembering the First World War.  Literature Cambridge Study Day.  Stapleford Granary, CB22 5BP  Read more about Literature Cambridge here

3rd    1pm  Voices and Viols, Laments of the Renaissance.  Carissimi, Gibbons, Weelkes and Byrd.  Erasmus Chamber Choir with Cambridge University Consort of Viols.  St. Clements Church, Bridge Street, CB2

6th    Translation as Music, Music as Translation.  Part of Women, Languages and Translation in the Italian Tradition Conference.  Talk 4.50 – 5.30pm.  Concert 6 – 7pm Bach, Chopin and Brahms.  Clare College.  Advance registration required on

7th    5 – 9pm  Late at the Fitzwilliam: Feminist Takeover.  Fitzwilliam Museum

9th (until 12th Dec)   10am – 6pm Metamorphoses & Other Prints, an exhibition of art works by David Brown.

9 – 10th  Cambridge Festival of Ukrainian Film.  Winstanley Theatre, Trinity College.

9th    7pm  West Road Remembers, a remembrance concert.  West Road Concert Hall, CB3

10th    3pm  History of Tango.  Talk and dance demonstration by Cambridge Tango Academy.  St Paul’s Church, Hills Road, CB2.

10th    3.15pm  O Nata Lux.  London Oriana Choir.  Monteverdi, Vaughan-Williams, Britten, Andrew, Hagan and Dale.  Queens’ College Chapel.  Free entry.

10th    7.30pm  Pujol Plays Tango.  St Paul’s Church, Hills Road, CB2.

10th    7.30pm  A Farewell to Arms, an evening of music to reflect on war and peace.  Fairhaven Singers.  Queens’ College Chapel.

10th    8pm  The Seraphin Chamber Orchestra.  Mahler and Schubert.  Emmanuel United Reformed Church, CB2

11th    8.30pm  An evening of new choral and orchestral music to commemorate the WW1 armistice centenary.  The Phoenix Choir and The Phoenix Ensemble.  Great St Mary’s Church, CB2. or tickets on the door

12th    7.45pm  Science meets Faith: Issues concerning palliative and end of life care.  Dr Stephen Barclay.  Wesley Church, CB1

13 – 27th    Cambridge International Jazz Festival

14 – 17th    Cambridge Beer Festival.  University Social Club, Mill Lane, CB2

14 – 26th    Cambridge Music Festival

16th    7.30pm  A Courtly Garland.  Orpheus Britannicus.  Grossi, Handel, Finger and Torelli.  Trinity Hall, CB2

17th    The North Pole Ice Rink opens.  Parker’s Piece, CB1.

17th    11am – 4.30pm  Sustainable Fashion Festival.  St Barnabas Church, Mill Road, CB1  Read more here

17th    8pm  Trinity Singers Concert.  Rossini’s Petite Messe Solonnelle.  Trinity College Chapel.

17th    7.30pm  Raise your Voices Cambridge.  A variety of musical styles and songs, raising money for Church Urban Fund.  Great St Mary’s Church, CB2

18th    11am – 4pm  Naomi Davies Art Winter Open Studio.  Cake, carols, cards, gifts and paintings.  151 Hobart Road, CB1

18th    5pm  Christmas Lights Switch On.  Market Square, CB1

23 – 25th    Cambridge Literary Festival

24th    8pm  Enchantment and Passion.  Delibes, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Khachaturian.  Cambridge Graduate Orchestra.  West Road Concert Hall, CB3.

29th – 1st Dec    Cambridge Made Christmas Fair.  St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church, CB2   Facebook: Cambridge Made Christmas Fair 2018  Read more about Cambridge Made and last year’s Christmas Fair here

30th    6 – 8pm  Pots for Poverty.  Charity sale raising funds for Jimmy’s Night Shelter.  The Locker Cafe, King Street, CB1.  Read more about last year’s Pots for Poverty here

30th    6 – 9pm  Late at Kettle’s Yard.  Kettle’s Yard, CB3.

Autumn colour in Trumpington Street Cambridge
Autumn colour on Trumpington Street


Sustainable Fashion Festival Cambridge

“Buy less, choose well, make it last” is designer Dame Vivienne Westwood’s message.  With this mantra ringing in their ears, Cambridge Carbon Footprint is bringing the Sustainable Fashion Festival to St Barnabas Church on Mill Road on 17 November.


Clothing accounts for around 12% of global greenhouse emissions and is the world’s second largest industrial polluter.  As clothing becomes cheaper, purchasing of fast fashion has increased but 30% of the clothing in our wardrobes is never worn.  By choosing what we buy and wear with care, we can help to tackle climate crisis, environmental problems and exploitation of workers.

This Festival has a packed programme of events to help us towards a more eco-friendly wardrobe …..

Sustainable Fashion Festival Cambridge AmaElla
Image credit: AmaElla

…..  a Pop Up Market and Fashion Show will include organic cotton lingerie and nightwear from AmaElla, socks which are guaranteed for 30 years from BuyMeOnce plus bags and accessories from Qhere who upcycle advertising banners and punctured bike tyre inner tubes into eco-friendly designs.


Sustainable Fashion Festival Qhere
Image credit: Qhere

…..  styling workshops with professional stylist Roberta Style Lee, founder of the Ethical Brand Directory.  You need to pre-book these workshops via the website.

…..  a panel discussion “Fashion the Future” with leaders from the sustainable fashion movement including the founders of AmaElla, BuyMeOnce, Petit Pli (who create ingeniously designed clothing that grows with your child) and Mamoq (a market place for sustainable, ethical clothing).

Sustainable Fashion Festival Cambridge Petit Pli
Image credit: Petit Pli

…..  upcycling workshops so you can create a Christmas jumper.  Just turn up with your own plain jumper and they’ll supply the bling!

…..  a sewing themed Repair Cafe and Sewing Skillshare for repairs to clothes (best to book in advance to avoid a wait) or for one to one help with your sewing skills.

…..  a women’s wear Clothes Swapping Party, so bring along a few bits of clothing with accessories and shoes too if you like.

Plus you can get creative at the Kettle’s Yard drop-in and refuel at the cafe which will serve homemade cakes from the Cambridge Ladybirds WI.

Sustainable Fashion Festival Cambridge Rakha
Image credit: Rakha

This is a brilliant free event for all Cambridge fashionistas and for anyone who cares about the huge negative impact that fast fashion has on the environment.  Full details of the day are on the website.

Cambridge Youth Opera

Regular readers of this blog might know that I’m a keen singer and I firmly believe in the positive power of joining your voice with others and experiencing the sheer joy of making music together.  So when Cambridge Youth Opera came up on my social media with details of its new programme “Making Magic”, I was intrigued and met with Founder and Artistic Director Caroline Coetzee to find out more.

Caroline Coetzee headshotCaroline’s story begins in Johannesburg where she grew up in a family steeped in the arts, so music was always all around her.  At secondary school, she realised that people saw the arts as something for others, not as a part of everyday life, and this fuelled her enduring belief that the arts belong to everyone, whether they are professionally involved or not.  Opera became a particular passion for Caroline and after studying Theatre Studies and Music, she worked in opera before life eventually brought her to Cambridge.

Caroline’s then teenage daughter and her friends loved to sing but there was little opportunity for young people to experience live opera here in East Anglia.  So in 2011, Caroline decided to plug that gap.  With rehearsal space provided by Chesterton Community College and the support of Cambridgeshire Music and John Lewis, Caroline put on “Dido and Aeneas”.  A production of “The Magic Flute” at Cambridge Junction followed in 2013 and the work continued, with subsequent productions of “Amahl and the Night Visitors”, “Brundibar”, Offenbach’s “Daphnis and Chloe”, Britten’s “The Little Sweep” and the European premiere of “The Hiding Tree” by Edward Barnes.

Cambridge Youth Opera
Image credit:  Faruk Kara
Cambridge Youth Opera
Image credit: Faruk Kara

Cambridge Youth Opera works with young people aged 11-21 years and participation in all activities is completely free.  There’s open access for singers and members of the production team who work on stage management, lighting, costume, choreography and set design and building.  Singers are guaranteed a place in the Chorus and only need to audition for solo roles.  A chamber orchestra of older teenagers is auditioned.  “Often it’s the musicians’ first experience of orchestral playing in an opera context,” Caroline explains.  “They’re working with a conductor and supporting singers, so it’s a different skill.”

Cambridge Youth Opera
Image credit: Faruk Kara

“There’s a perception that opera is exclusive, expensive and elitist,” she continues.  Caroline and her team blow that perception out of the water as they work in a collaborative process with their young company.  “We’re not trying to make them sound like opera singers; we work together to achieve the best possible performance appropriate to their age and stage of development.”  She’s supported by Alastair Chilvers (Musical Director) and Julia Caddick (Vocal Coach), whose aim is to give singers a solid technique whilst developing their voices in a way that’s right for them.  Company members find that their talents, interests and ambitions are fostered and their confidence builds too.  For some, it has led to a career in the arts.

Cambridge Youth Opera
Image credit: Faruk Kara

Cambridge Youth Opera is now running the “Making Magic” programme, a series of nine workshops based on operas with magic themes, which will culminate in a performance in March 2019 at Storey’s Field Centre.  The workshops, with music learning, acting exercises, improvisation and games, will build a core company, many of whom will want to continue on to the full production of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel”.  Rehearsals for that start in September this year for performance in 2020.

Cambridge Youth Opera
Image credit: Faruk Kara

Cambridge Youth Opera has for some years been a charity and Caroline is constantly working to raise core funding.  She’s now also seeking funding for the “Making Magic” workshop programme and for “Hansel and Gretel”.  And her hope is that primary school children will be able to attend the production so that the next generation is introduced to opera.  If you’d like to donate, to sponsor this work or to have a longer term involvement with Cambridge Youth Opera, Caroline will be happy to hear from you.

For more information on “Making Magic” and “Hansel and Gretel”, take a look at the website, through which you can also make a donation or contact Caroline directly.